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Gumbo: because there’s a lot of stuff going on down here.1
I’m still amazed, humbled, and grateful every time I get a notification that someone has subscribed to this little corner of Substack. Kamran, Rocky, Will, Hannah, Satya, Alli, Claudia, Mike, Elizabeth, Amir, Lynn, Louis, Amber, Sue, tnewki, Mark, Marie, and Dianna—welcome! I’m glad you’ve joined us!
In case you missed it, last week I wrote about why I stopped drinking alcohol, and so many of you readers brought your stories to the comments section. I was blown away by the discussion. Thank you for showing up and sharing. That’s really what this space is all about, and I learn so much from you (like all the non-alcoholic margarita recipes!).
I’m working on some pieces that just haven’t gelled yet, so this week you’ll get an assortment of updates from my corner of Mississippi.2 Think of it as a family newsletter—the one you get once or twice a year from dear Aunt Agatha. I promise not to give you a blow-by-blow of our most recent vacation (I think I almost did that a few weeks ago) or tell you about my recent mammogram (when another patient accidentally walked in the room while I was in full boob exposure). We’ll stick to the really interesting topics.
While we’ve been enjoying some time outdoors with mild temperatures, Mother Nature hasn’t been so kind to our neighbors. A week ago, a tornado touched down just 140 miles north of us in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.3 21 people died that day, and last night another hit Little Rock, Arkansas. Early reports say over 30 people were hospitalized and 2,000+ homes were damaged. Some accounts say at least three people lost their lives in that storm.
My brother, who lives a couple of hours south of the metro area messaged me late last night to confirm that he’d heard from one of his favorite nurses at UAMS. She and her family were safe. He was also trying to get in touch with a couple of other people. In the two years he has been fighting AML, so many people there feel like family to him.
Van’s biopsies and lab work continue to show no signs of cancer after his stem cell transplant in June—which is thrilling each time I think of it! He turned 50 just a week ago, celebrating in his quiet way. After finishing some outpatient maintenance chemo, he stopped by a friend’s house to check out his old motorcycles and then shared a meal with his neighbors.
He still gets tired easily, but he’s learned to rest when he needs to. Soon he’ll be at the hunting camp, readying things for turkey season. For the last two years, he was hospitalized in April and missed it. The hope of being able to hunt this spring was something that got him through his rough days after his transplant—he loves hunting just that much!
Thanks so much to all of you who have prayed for Van and sent your good wishes these last few months. He’s recovering well, and I’m grateful to have more years with my brother.
And to those who have followed my son Jonah’s recovery story of a different sort, I’m excited to share with you that he will graduate from his long-term rehabilitation program on Wednesday of this week!4 He’s spent 10 months learning to live life differently and will soon transition to sober living, which doesn’t make me nervous at all because his program has already reintroduced him to the world through its phased approach.
Jonah’s been working a full-time job since September and has lived a mostly normal life but with some accountability and oversight. Now he’ll transition to less oversight, but I’m excited that he’ll share a house with some other guys who have been part of his brotherhood in recovery. I’m so proud of him for turning his life over to a Higher Power to restore him and then doing the work to understand how to handle those things he struggles with.
Last year was a whirlwind of helping Van and Jonah, and in January I realized 2023 would look much different. What would I do with myself this year?
So I declared it was time to really get down to business with my small business, which was on auto-pilot in 2022. I’ve written about the 119-year-old building we own and operate as an event venue and how our vision for it includes many nonprofit offerings. You can catch up on that here:
One month into the new year, I updated you on how my plans for art nights and songwriter events just weren’t coming together, but we had an unforeseen opportunity to help others and promote the arts that month by offering the space to a dance team who had no place to practice for an upcoming competition.
I’m here to tell you that my conceived plans for community offerings continue to fail, yet the venue is still serving others! The sponsor of our public school’s Technology Student Association contacted me and asked if she could host her awards ceremony at our building at the end of January. It was a small group of students, but I went all out setting up tables and a backdrop. Mike even crafted a lectern for the event.
Before the ceremony began, I had the privilege of staging the students upstairs and sharing a bit of my experience working as an IT security analyst. It was a pleasure meeting each of them and inviting them to reach out to me any time for a pep talk, interview prep, resume editing, or college or career guidance.
(In my past life, I managed many student employees at a large university, and mentoring them was what I loved most about the job. When I left that position, I was able to continue helping young adults through my church. I forget how much I enjoyed it until I have an opportunity like this!)
In May, we’ll have another chance to support this school and our community’s youth by hosting a Senior Breakfast for 40 students and their parents or other honored guests. We charge nothing for these academic events, and we also are hosting three school proms at discounted rates. Last weekend was the first, and we enjoyed seeing these kids have a great time decorating and then getting all dressed up for the dance.
Today we are using our space to serve another need. We already had a party on the books for Sunday, but Saturday was open when I received a call last weekend inquiring about renting for a repast. I’d never heard the term “repast” until I moved here, but it’s what the Black community here calls the meal after a funeral.
We have hosted several repasts, which we consider occasions to serve those mourning the loss of a loved one. I offer the space, tables set up with linens and centerpieces, as well as the use of any catering equipment they need. I receive about 20% of our normal rental rates, which I often use to pay local people cash to help me set up, clean, or take care of outside cleaning. Setting up takes some time, but I use it as an opportunity to pray for the family and consider the life of the deceased.
This week as I set up for today’s meal, I was interrupted several times in my work by knocks on the door or faces peering through the windows. Since moving here, I’ve learned that loves comes in the interruptions, so I stopped my work and chatted for a bit.
First, I spoke with Jessie, who cleans our windows, takes care of the patch of grass behind the building, and drops off treats like fresh vegetables from his garden or a foil-wrapped slice of birthday cake. We set a time for him to come by next week to clean the windows. Next was Aeroplane. He popped in for only a minute to say hello, and later Napoleon greeted me with a smile and chatted a bit as we haven’t seen each other in a few months.
I enjoyed talking with those friends, but my favorite visits were from DJ and Ty.5 DJ wanted to let me know he’d found a job and should start work next week. Wonderful news since the cards are stacked against him. He has no vehicle, jobs here are scarce, and he quit school a couple of years ago. He lives with his octogenarian grandfather, whose health is declining, so I’m glad to know DJ will have some source of income when his grandfather is no longer around.
I met Ty on Halloween night in 2020 when he and two of his sisters and some other friends stopped by to trick-or-treat. They wore no costumes and one girl who was no older than 11 pushed an infant in a rickety stroller. But that’s a story for another day.
Over the last two years, Ty and his sisters have always known they can stop by my house for some snacks or a meal or whatever they may need. When they lived down the street from me, they did that often. One night, 12-year-old Ty knocked on our door at 11:30 because he was locked out of his house and couldn’t locate his parents or grandmother. He stayed with us for three nights. That’s also a story for another day.
After the kids moved across town, we saw them less, but every now and then Ty surprises me. It has been a few months since I've heard from him, but this week he popped in while I was working at Planters.6 He allowed me to give him a big hug, something he probably secretly loves but has to act like he hates since he's now a teenager.
“Ms. Holly, you got any drinks?”
“I think I have some orange juice in the fridge. Let’s go see.”
Our time was short and his words these days are few, but I managed to wrangle out of him that he was on the track team now and enjoying it. He also said his mom, dad, and sisters are all good. I poured him a Solo cup full of OJ, gave him a bottle of water, and offered an assortment of breakfast bars from a big bowl. As I walked him to the door, he pulled out his phone.
“Ms. Holly…I can have your number? I had got a new phone.”
He still knows I’m here for him. He hasn’t grown too cool for this middle-aged White lady.
I haven’t been so excited for a boy to ask for my number since I was in college. My heart swelled as I added my contact information. I handed him the phone and told him to text me anytime.
Love comes in the interruptions.
We lost tons of money on this old building in the last three years, but I can’t put a price on the connections we’ve gained through it.7
What’s new with you?
Share your wins, however large or small, tangible or intangible.
How is love showing up for you?
How are you showing up for others?
I love this article on gumbo as a metaphor for New Orleans, but I feel like that’s a metaphor for much of the South.
Speaking of that, one of the posts I’m working on is how we came to land here in Woodville, population ~800. It seemed an easy tale until I began writing it!
PBS has posted a great article that provides a glimpse into Mississippi Delta life and the impact of the storm.
Our business is The Historic Planters Building, but most people here just call it “Planters” because it was first Planters Mercantile then Planters Hardware.
Paying business has really picked up this year now that we’re now offering add-ons like specialty chairs, decor items, and full event design and installation. I’m excited to see the business grow. We’re getting closer each year to having the business be self-sustaining!